The Leader and Community
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47 ESV).
This particular passage of Scripture provides us with a snapshot of the life of the early Church. It gives us a remarkable portrait of what the Jesus way looked like being lived out – the interplay of a shared life and a shared mission in the context of relationship. These verses have been seminal and foundational for my life and ministry for over 40 years. The devotion to koinonia – the participation in/with one another’s lives – has become core to my understanding and practice of the Jesus way. Here is how I see it:
Christian Community: The shared life together in Christ of a group of disciples who have a regular, consistent devotion to participating in and with each other in an organic life/ministry holism (Johnston, Tom. The Way of the Master: The Leader Development Methodology of Jesus (p. 14). Kindle Edition).
From the leadership perspective, we see that leadership only happens in the context of the Kingdom community. Such community is both the environment through which God forms us as leaders, as well as the relational space where our leading takes place. The discovery of our identity as sons and daughters, the development of our heart capacity of loving and serving others, as well as the empowerment and the outworking of our destiny all occur within the fabric of relationships in the Kingdom community. Within the context of the community, we are “built together” with other believers, giving others the gift of who we are in Christ even as we ourselves receive Christ in them. As I have indicated, leadership is a gift given in the context of responsible relational roles found within the community of the King: pastor, elder, deacon, small group leader, etc. For most leaders, such functions are expressed primarily in a local church context, vested with authority by the Spirit for the benefit of a local church. This is true whether it is a house church or a more traditionally structured church – the relational connection is what makes the leader effective. While it is true that some have a grace for translocal ministry, the vast majority of leaders will find their leadership expression in a local church environment.
SO, why is this true? The New Testament is definitive that the local church is the ultimate endgame of the Jesus way. The word ekklēsia (Gk. for “church,” ref. Matthew 16:18) is a very “local” word. It has the connotation of being a local called-out assembly that serves as God’s representative people in a town. Of course, all believers are part of Christ’s universal Church. Still, it is always meant to be expressed in a local assembly of people following the Jesus way together. This factor pushes back on “lone-ranger” Christians as well as so-called “leaders” who are in no local congregation and under no local authority. While the disassociated believer is useless to the Kingdom efforts of Jesus, the “rogue leader” is downright dangerous to the churches. They are “kings in exile,” always looking for a throne. They may attract followers to themselves, but like the Pharisees, they make them “twice the sons of hell,” leading them off the way of Jesus (ref. Matthew 23:15).
The accountability of local church life fosters healthy discipleship, healthy leadership, and healthy reproduction of disciples, leaders, and churches. Someone who does not have the personal devotion as described in the Acts 2 passage above is someone who cannot be trusted to hold any place of responsibility in the lives of other Christians. To be in a place or role of responsibility for people, we must also be responsible to people. As we have discussed, this only happens in devoted, ongoing, long-term relationships. The effective service of any and all disciples occurs in the context of the Kingdom community. Accordingly, authentic leadership can only be given to those with whom we have such a connection. We serve in community; we lead in community, and ultimately, we serve and lead for the benefit of the community. People who cannot consistently give themselves to others will never be effective servants of Jesus, nor do they actually lead others in His way.
We must never forget that the local church, that organic Kingdom community we are placed within by the Holy Spirit, is a place of a joint journey with Jesus. We must continually push back against the Western personal, “privatized religion” our culture gravitates towards. As I have always said, “spiritual community is formed through spiritual pursuit with others together in time and space” (Johnston, Tom. The Way of the Master: The Leader Development Methodology of Jesus (p. 89). Kindle Edition.). The Jesus way has as part of its fabric a communal pursuit of Jesus and His Kingdom purposes. It is life and mission integrated into an ongoing shared experience with Him. It is the “both/and” of being and doing in the beautiful context of life shared with others of like precious faith.
Again, to summarize, we are shaped by God in His Kingdom community. We lead in the context of community and for the benefit of those within the community. Kingdom extension happens from this place of the local church as we multiply disciples, leaders, and churches.
What to read more about this? I expand on all this in-depth in several sections in my new book, The Way of the Master: The Leader Development Methodology of Jesus. Now available on Amazon in Kindle e-book format.